Celebrity and the Dying Art of Debate

I took part in a debate at the University of Westminster last night alongside that wily old fox Max Clifford (the second time I’ve shared a stage with him – it always makes for an interesting experience) and others, discussing Celebrity Brands: Desire, Dollars and Danger?

It was a rather curious and disappointing night; most of the questions from the floor were from people seeking insight via anecdote and I found myself missing the grillings I got from wannabe journalists 15 years ago about the nature of PR. The media has changed, without doubt – celebrity has come to be a sop they use to send us to sleep easily at night, a sort of weak-horlicks fairytale with all the calories and morals removed.

When it comes to celebrity, the media are too often an industry dependent on lives going wrong so they can print half truths and soap operas. The modern media can’t seem to find – or find the time for – the voices of those contributing something of worth to society. Everything is too prearranged. All those bright young things who wanted to be journalists now want to be in PR, as there’s always money to be made there.

But critical opinion is being lost. Does no one want to know how photos of John Terry and his wife in Dubai – which has strict privacy laws – were taken? It had to be by careful arrangement but no one questioned this last night. Everybody knows everything and nothing – the useful details are lost beneath a swath of cosy anecdote.

Debate is at an all time low – it is not even fashionable in politics, as Gordon Brown’s giving over of himself to the personal via the medium of his TV interview with Piers Morgan the other day proves. That and the fact that the political parties are all trying to bag celebs to help win the upcoming election (click here to see a piece on this in the Telegraph for which I gave a quote) rather than debate and think their way out of their problems.

I’m well aware that the world is constantly changing, as it should, but to have young wannabe publicists and journalists sidestep entirely a proper discourse and just accept the nature of things as they are on the surface is disturbing. There’s always money to be made – asking questions won’t, in the long run, stem the flow of that income. The power of questions is that, by questioning, one can change things. True constructive analysis and debate is the only way for the media, PR and the world to move forward – equilibrium need not mean stultification.